Zoo's elephant toddler turns 5, loves to play with lil' sis

This is a press release courtesy of the Oregon Zoo

Asian elephant Samudra turned 5 years old at the Oregon Zoo today, and it's fair to say big brothers don't come much bigger.

"Sam's growing up to be a big boy, just like his daddy, Tusko," said Shawn Finnell, senior elephant keeper. "He weighs more than two tons now, and he's almost as tall as Chendra, who's the smallest of the adult females."

Samudra, born Aug. 23, 2008, had a rough start to life. First-time mom Rose-Tu became confused and agitated after delivering Sam, and keepers worked hard to ensure the critical mother-calf bond became the strong one it is today. Now that he's older, Samudra's also been getting life lessons from his dad.

Tusko the father of both Samudra and Lily has been teaching his son what it means to be a bull over the past two years. Keepers believe that seeing male behavior modeled from an early age will have a positive effect on Samudra's ability to socialize with the herd as he matures. So far, it seems to be working.

"Sam's been a very patient big brother," Finnell said. "Lily has been enjoying daily play sessions with him and she's at the point now where she initiates the play. King of the Mountain is the game of choice right now. Sam always lets her win."

Keepers say Lily, born Nov. 30, is proving a boisterous addition to the zoo's Asian elephant herd and the pitter-patter of little feet is beginning to sound downright thunderous: At just under 9 months old, the zoo's youngest elephant has already topped 900 pounds.

"Lily was born big, and she's got a big personality to match," Finnell said. "She's more than tripled her birth weight of 300 pounds. You can almost watch her grow."

Keepers have begun daily training sessions with the young elephant encouraging her, through positive reinforcement, to participate in the routine checkups and veterinary tests needed for her healthcare.

"We train the elephants in a lot of behaviors geared toward their care," Finnell said. "She's learning to open her mouth so we can check her teeth and gums, and she's learning to pick up her feet, which will be very helpful for her care throughout her life. Getting the animals to participate voluntarily makes it so much easier if we need to administer medical treatment."

Like her big brother, Lily enjoys the water. (Samudra's name a Sanskrit term for ocean was inspired by his love of all things wet.)

"Her favorite activity is probably her bath," Finnell said. "She enjoys rolling around in the water under mom. It's fun to see Lily growing up and taking on traits similar to her mother, father and big brother."

By the time Samudra is 7 years old and Lily is 3, things should be looking a lot different for the zoo's elephant herd. In June, the zoo broke ground on Elephant Lands, an expansion of the current habitat that will quadruple the animals' space and dramatically enhance their experiences and daily routines. The new habitat is scheduled to open in 2015. To learn more, visit